Whew, this chapter's done! One section in particular made me want to tear all my hair out and beat my head against the wall, but now that this chapter's done, the next few should be a little easier. Yay! Anyway, I'm hoping to start updating once a week now... Sundays good for y'all? :) But stop listening to me rambling and go read the story! (And then review it.) :D
Chapter 7: Potions
After Tom left, Harry did his best to calm his new kitten by stroking her fur softly and whispering reassurances. He grimaced as she grabbed hold of his hand with both paws and sunk her teeth into his palm. Attempting to extricate his hand from her grip without hurting her or himself, he finally pulled on her scruff gently, quickly hiding his abused hand under the covers as he tried to placate her.
When Tom finally reappeared, Harry scowled, the kitten having climbed onto his shoulder, gnawing at his collarbone. Tom shook his head, laughing as he set his load down by the door. "I took the liberty of purchasing a few… pet care items… for you since you will not be able to leave your bed for another two days."
Harry scowled at the reminder before sighing in resignation. "All right, let's see 'em."
Tom suppressed a snicker at Harry's tone before retrieving food and water bowls, a 10 lb bag of kitten food, a self cleaning litter box and various charmed cat toys.
Harry reluctantly approved Tom's choices before smirking. "Now who's going to set all that up? I'm still on bed rest, you know."
The man paused for a moment before scowling and gritting his teeth. "I will. Where do you want them?"
After a thoroughly enjoyable half hour in which Harry continuously changed his mind gleefully about where he wanted the items, he was finally satisfied, and Tom pulled up a chair while the two enjoyed their breakfast.
"I've been meaning to ask you," Tom commented, "Why on earth do you own a Slytherin beanie?" Unable to contain his laughter, he barely managed to duck Harry's half-hearted swing before looking up expectantly. "Well?"
"It was a last resort," Harry ground out. "I needed something to hide my scar, and it was either that or pink polka dots."
Tom's eyes widened as he shuddered in horror. "Well, I don't blame you. I'd probably choose to wear Hufflepuff colors over pink polka dots!"
Harry sniggered. "Yeah, it was pretty hideous."
"And hey, it looked better on you than any Gryffindor colors."
Harry choked. "Did not!"
"It certainly did."
"Face it, green is just better than magenta."
"Admit it, Harry."
"You're in denial."
"No, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are."
"HA!" Harry shouted triumphantly. "That wasn't a full sentence!"
Tom pouted childishly before sighing, "How about we agree to disagree?"
Harry grinned, "You're only saying that 'cause you know I'm right!"
Tom groaned in exasperation, "Give it a rest, stubborn child!"
Harry opened his mouth to give a stinging retort but Tom quickly placed his hand over it, stopping him. The two froze, eyes locked in surprise, before Tom hastily removed his hand and they continued eating, the silence nearly deafening.
The remainder of the day passed in a similar manner with few major arguments, though still with plenty of minor arguments. Despite the lack of explosions, though, there were still plenty of awkward moments and forced silences. Tom left after they had finished dinner, promising to be back in the morning with breakfast for them both.
O o O o O
The next morning Tom grinned broadly upon entering and announced, "Everything is in order. Do you still want to hear my plan to put you at the top of your Potions class?"
Even though Harry's eyes lit up with anticipation and a hint of fear, he anwered hurriedly, "Yes!"
"Good. Aside from Divination, Potions is easily the most difficult subject at Hogwarts. Very few students achieve NEWT level, especially with Severus' stringent requirements, which by the way, are completely reasonable. The complexity of the Potions theory taught in that class is well beyond the comprehension of the average student. So, I believe the only way for you to have a chance at passing your OWLs with an O is with private tutoring. Besides, I think you'd enjoy Potions if you actually understood it. What do you say?"
Harry blinked uncomprehendingly before sudden horror dawned in his eyes. "Are you seriously offering to tutor me in Potions?"
"I. Um... okay," Harry said weakly.
"Good. Let's begin with the most basic concepts, and then we'll progress to more age appropriate ideas after I'm satisfied that you completely understand the early ones.
[[AN: This next section is optional; only read it if you're interested in my version of Potions theory. If you don't care, skip to the next double brackets.]]
"First of all, like the Muggle science Chemistry, there's a clear cut diagram of all Potions ingredients, simply called the Potions Chart. However, it is much more complex than it's Muggle counterpart, resembling a tree in place of a straightforward table. Dangerous, irregular ingredients lie in the roots of the tree. These are generally illegal, though in special cases may be approved by the Ministry. Unicorn's blood, for example, is banned from use in any Potion no matter the circumstances, for obvious reasons.
"The trunk of the tree itself is merely a category, and doesn't include specific ingredients. Think of it as a placeholder that keeps all the other categories in the same position relative to each other. I'll not bore you with all the details at, but in essence each limb is a wide category, branches are groups within those categories, twigs are even smaller sections, and the leaves are the actual ingredients.
"Each ingredient has specific properties, and it is these properties that bind together to create the effects desired when brewing. Lower level potions can be brewed simply by following instructions, however those which are more difficult must be constantly watched, kept in exactly the right conditions, ingredients placed in narrow windows of time to work with the reactions of other ingredients, etc. In addition, rare Potions ingredients often vary in potency, and it takes a practiced hand to determine the amount which will ensure it's proper reaction with the other ingredients." He grinned at the thoughtful look on Harry's face. "Questions?"
[[AN: Okay, the Potions lesson is over for now! :) ]]
"I think… I just learned more about Potions than in my entire first year," Harry said, grinning. "Maybe you really can get me through the OWLs!"
Tom laughed before warning, "This is just the easy material; it's what most purebloods learn before ever coming to Hogwarts. Things get more complicated extraordinarily quickly."
Harry scowled. "Thanks for popping my happy bubble. But, I guess the only way to get through it is to keep at it, so let's get going."
Tom nodded approvingly before launching into a lecture on the most basic aspects of Potions making, often pausing and explaining concepts to Harry and patiently waiting for complete understanding before continuing the dialogue. They continued until Harry glanced at the clock and was shocked to find that it was hours past lunchtime. Had the time really flown by that quickly? And... did that mean he had been having fun talking about Potions?
When he voiced his concern, Tom clapped him on the shoulder, teasing, "You poor thing! You'll soon become obsessed with Potions at this rate... and you'll never be able to give it up!"
Harry gasped in mock horror. "How awful! But seriously, though, you don't think I'm going to actually start liking Potions, do you?"
"I have absolutely no doubt that once you start to understand the subtle, complex nature of Potions you'll love it. But for now, let's go take a lunch break. What's your favorite place?"
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion before he sat bolt upright in revelation. "I'm free! Bed rest is over! I can leave my room! I'm FREE!" He shouted, before literally jumping up out of bed in excitement.
Tom watched, amused, before clearing his throat pointedly and asking, "Lunch?"
"Oh. Right," Harry said, blushing, then paused, thinking back to what Tom had said. "You mean... together? Just go and have lunch as if we were... friends?"
"I suppose that would be a leap of faith, wouldn't it? But, we agreed to start over, yes? Would you consider the Tom you've known these past few days to be a friend?"
The words were innocent enough, but Harry heard a slight hesitance in the inquiry, as if Tom was nervous. But, that couldn't be right. He shook it off and answered timidly, "Yes." As he said it, he realized it was true; if he had met this Tom at school, he would have certainly taken a liking to him.
Tom smiled again, something Harry was beginning to like about him... He was so laid back and content seeming. But, why in the world was he, anyway? He was a Dark Lord, after all! Before Harry could think anything more about it, Tom interrupted his thoughts, "Well then, let's go out for a bite to eat, shall we?"
Now that he thought about it, he rather liked the idea of having lunch with Tom. He rarely treated himself to lunch at an actual restaurant, and when he did, he never had anyone to share it with. "But, where should we go?"
"Hmm... How about Shelly's? They have delicious grilled sandwiches," Tom suggested.
"Sounds good to me. Now that we're talking about food, I'm starving!"
Tom laughed as they stood to go. "Teenagers— always thinking with their stomachs."
After he got into the swing of things, Harry began to appreciate his new schedule, glad of the escape from his would-be summer at the Dursleys. Tom came to tutor him from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (with a lunch break) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, insisting that Harry needed as much time as possible to be prepared for the upcoming year. They had a tendency to wander off topic, though, discussing everything from the latest Quidditch product to their favorite subjects, to philosophy and the meaning of life.
Harry began looking forward to their meetings more and more, quickly becoming bored with exploring Diagon Alley and purchasing the things that caught his eye. He almost considered asking Tom to come more often before he realized what he was thinking and quickly banished the idea from his mind.
[[This next section is basically more Potions theory; so if you want to skip it I'll give you a summary in bold at the end.]]
One day, exactly a week before school began, Tom came to visit as usual, but this time, he brought a sheet of handwritten brewing instructions and a small pouch of Galleons. At Harry's curious expression, he set the items on the table, inviting Harry to look them over, and explained.
"This is an exercise often implemented by Potions Masters when first training an apprentice fresh out of Hogwarts. It tests not only the student's theoretical knowledge of potions and their ability to brew, but also their skill in navigating an apothecary and thinking on their feet to deal with realistic problems as they occur. Of course, the potion here is of a lower level than generally used, as you are still only at OWL level, but it should suffice as proof that you have caught up to your year in Potions. As you can see, I've given you the ingredients and instructions to create a potion you haven't seen before, and sufficient funds to purchase the ingredients. Brew me this potion and have it ready by Wednesday for your next lesson."
With that, he turned and left, ignoring Harry's stuttered inquiries. Suddenly nervous, Harry took a deep breath and turned his attention to the potion, reading through the instructions twice to get a good idea of what he would be doing. Copying the list of ingredients onto a second sheet of parchment, he took his list and the pouch of money and headed to the Apothecary.
Easily picking out most of the required items, he narrowed the list down to only two more ingredients, frowning as he tried to recall their properties and usage. The first, silkworm thread soaked in beetle eye juice, was actually two ingredients, and required quite a bit of time and delicate work to properly combine. He could purchase it pre-soaked, but that would require all of money he had left (thirteen sickles), and he was sure Tom had provided him with enough to purchase all the ingredients.
He set the problem aside temporarily and turned his attention to the other remaining ingredient. Powdered newt tongue? He had never heard of such a thing before, and that made him nervous. He easily found it in the well organized store, but noted with dismay that it cost two galleons, far more than he had left, especially if he purchased the other ingredient.
He chewed his lip thoughtfully as he mulled over the problem. He knew without doubt that the challenge was intended; it was obviously part of the assignment, but what to do about it? The only thing he could think of was to substitute some of the items for less expensive ones with similar properties. They would be less potent, but he would deal with that once he came to it. Sitting down, he carefully read and re-read the list of ingredients, noting those with possible substitutes. Once that was done, he laboriously compiled the costs of those substitutes and determined the new total, relieved to see that it was a far smaller number than it had been previously.
Gathering all the new items, he walked to the counter with them and smugly poured out the contents of the money pouch, knowing that it contained the exact change to the Knut.
Back at the Leaky Cauldron after a quick lunch, he laid out the ingredients in the impromptu workspace they had made on one side of the room, pushing his bed to the other end for more space.
Beginning with the base, he slowly added ingredients at the proper time, carefully stirring them into the now simmering cauldron while he tried to decipher a way to improve the potion's potency and make up for the weaker ingredients he had had to use. Once he reached a point where the cauldron had to simmer for a few hours, he sat down with a tired sigh and dove into the problem more fully.
Still staring at the cauldron with no ideas hours later, he realized it was nearing the time to prepare the potion for the final two ingredients to be added, and frantically searched for anything that could help before his window of time was lost. Re-reading the sheet, staring at the cauldron, and rehashing the ingredients continued to turned up nothing, and he had nearly given up when he sat bolt upright, shouting, "That's it!"
His cheeks grew warm with embarrassment at his exclamation even though no one could have heard it. Despite his embarrassment, he hurriedly busied himself at his desk, proudly editing the sheet of instructions to account for his subtle changes involving the final ingredients.
Another hour and an aching back later, he sat back, grinning down at his creation and carefully setting it over the fire at boiling temperature where it would remain for the next 24 hours, it's magical properties preventing any of it from evaporating.
Work finished, Harry simply had a modest dinner and retired, exhausted from his efforts. As he wearily prepared for bed, he speculated that the potion must be a fairly advanced one to drain so much magical energy from him. After feeding Bella, he collapsed onto his bed and fell asleep with a deep sigh of relief.
[[Alright, basically Tom gave Harry a final project to prove that he's caught up with the rest of his class. He worked on it and (hopefully) overcame it's challenges, and now he's waiting until the next time Tom comes to judge him on it.]]
Teaser: People who had done nothing wrong, murdered because he had avoided thinking about it?
Edit: I'm sorry, guys, this is gonna have to be it for a while. A long while. :( I really hate to have to do this, but my life is just incredibly overwhelming at the moment, and I can't continue writing. I wrote a bit more about the situation on my Profile Page, but basically I won't be seeing you all for quite some time. Christmas at the earliest, but most likely not until summer. I love you, and I'll miss this, but there's really nothing I can do. Check in around Christmas. Who knows; I might be able to get a chapter finished over break.